Franklin County Sgt. Steve Pelton vividly recalls his violent encounter 13 years ago with Gary Wenzel, the man who was shot and killed by a Bourbon police officer last week following a high-speed pursuit.
It was Feb. 3, 2001, when Wenzel and Pelton fought on a bluff off of Mill Hill Road east of St. Clair. The fight broke out after Pelton tried to stop and question Wenzel about an earlier incident in which he had thrown a large rock onto the hood of a sheriff’s patrol car.
Pelton testified about his only encounter with Wenzel during a coroner’s inquest into the fatal shooting Tuesday in Crawford County.
Nearly a dozen law enforcement officers testified at the hearing which concluded with the six-person coroner’s jury ruling that the officer shooting was justified.
Part of the testimony centered on Wenzel’s history of running from police and aggression toward law enforcement officers.
Family members, who attended the inquest, have said they believe Wenzel was murdered.
“He did not deserve what he got. I know he was murdered. The cops had it in for him,” Annie Alley, Wenzel’s daughter, told The Missourian after the shooting. “He was not a bad person. He had a criminal past, but who doesn’t?”
Three investigators with the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control also testified that the shooting by Bourbon Patrolman Carl Storm was justified.
Sgt. Dan Crain, public information officer for Troop I, said that the investigation by the DDCC is continuing.
“The coroner’s inquest which consisted of testimony by the Crawford County coroner and the Missouri Highway Patrol Division and Crime Control examined all evidence pertaining to the scene. This evidence was presented to a six-member panel consisting of randomly chosen citizens in the Crawford County area. The shooting was ruled justified,” Bourbon Police Chief Mike Pinnock stated in a press release.
Wenzel, 50, was shot three times — in the thigh, chest and head — as he approached Officer Storm after crashing a car into a ditch at the end of an 11-minute pursuit Wednesday, March 5.
Storm attempted to stop the vehicle which matched one that Sullivan police had pursued Feb. 21. The chase led from Bourbon into Gasconade County, then back into Crawford County where it ended when Wenzel crashed at the intersection of Highway J and Fann Road.
Video of the chase showed Wenzel driving in the wrong lane around curves and over hills, said Pelton, who sat in on the entire coroner’s inquest.
The patrol car video also showed Wenzel striding briskly toward the officer, his arms swinging and hands open, Pelton said.
Franklin County Deputy Derrick Martin also testified at the hearing about how, in 2001, Wenzel rammed his car into Martin’s patrol car during a pursuit. Martin was a Bourbon police officer at the time.
During the 2001 encounter with Wenzel, Pelton said he had approached the man about the earlier incident that ended with damage to a county patrol car. Wenzel threw a rock “about the size of a baseball,” Pelton said, which struck him in the vest. When he moved to arrest the man, Wenzel ran off into the woods.
The two struggled when Pelton caught up to Wenzel and they slid down an embankment about five feet, with Wenzel landing on top of the deputy.
Pelton said they struggled again and slid further down the slope ending up in Brush Creek with Pelton on top this time.
“He had his hand on my gun and had ripped off my badge,” Pelton told The Missourian. Pelton managed to wrestle free and struck Wenzel with little effect.
Wenzel then took off running and fell to the ground a short distance away and gave up, the officer said.
Wenzel was not charged in that incident.
Earlier that day, the sheriff’s office received calls of a man throwing rocks off a bluff onto Mill Hill Road. When deputies arrived they saw Wenzel with a shovel and wire brush on top of the bluff. When they asked what he was doing, he replied that he was building a staircase to heaven, Pelton said.
When a deputy began climbing up the bluff, Wenzel threw a large rock onto the patrol car, then shouted and ran off, Pelton said.
Wenzel was released from prison on parole from 2001 drug and property damage convictions in which he received a 30-year sentence, according to records with the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Court records indicated that Wenzel was found guilty by a jury on March 1, 2002, of a charge of first-degree property damage. A jury found him guilty on April 21, 2002, of a charge of delivery, distribution or manufacturing of a controlled substance. Both cases were heard in Crawford County Circuit Court.
A judge ordered a 10-year sentence in the property damage case and a 20-year term on the drug-related charge, with the terms to be served consecutively.
Managing Editor Ed Pruneau and Keith E. Domke, St. Clair editor, contributed to this story.